Why does every overgrown field by the side of a rural freeway have a swing set? They’re always either metal or some god-awful pastel color with chipping paint surrounded by little rusting metal objects that look vaguely like farming tools. Not that I’ve ever worked on a farm, but you know. Rusting metal things in an overgrown field out in the country? Probably farming related.
In the little town where a few friends and I spent a couple of days last summer, the drive-in movie theatre has not only a swing set but one of those merry-go-round spinning things that you always see in movies slowly turning with a metallic squeal as a low wind blows through an abandoned playground. I think it’s supposed to signify loss of innocence, or maybe change. As in, the playground used to be full of laughing happy children and now they’re grown or moved away or dead or whatever the genre of the movie calls for. It’s been used so much that at this point if I see an abandoned playground in a movie I groan and tune out for a minute until the scene changes.
I usually watch horror movies or those new Marvel films, but Meggie wanted to go to the drive-in and it was only playing Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail. I hadn’t known Meggie long enough to feel comfortable to suggest we go somewhere else instead. Plus, she was the one with the car. It was a double feature, Meggie was insistent that we see at least the second one, and I hate going to things in the middle of it, so we decided to go to the whole thing.
Nick had stayed behind, so it was just me, Meggie, and Katherine. I wondered who would be the third wheel. With the four of us, Meggie is the odd one out because neither Nick nor I know her well, but the entire reason she came on the trip with us was her friendship with Katherine. The third wheel would have to be me or Meggie.
I sat shotgun and let Katherine sit in the back.
The most words I’ve ever said to Meggie to date were in the car that day. We talked about school mostly, since we all go to the same university. I don’t remember specifics. I remember wondering when we’d see each other again, hoping maybe I’d pick the activity and Nick and I could get to know Meggie better. I saw her a couple of weeks ago walking down South University. I think I waved.
At the drive-in, Katherine leaned on the divider to watch the movies. We shared popcorn and Meggie gave commentary on the movies the whole time. To be honest, I wasn’t really paying attention to the movies as much as I was enthralled by the way Meggie talks. She’d get excited about a line in the movie and she’d throw her head back and squeal, her curly black hair bouncing as she tapped my arm. “SO CUTE!” she’d say, or something along those lines. When an important part was coming, she’d grab my arm and look me straight in the eyes. “So this scene is integral in establishing” whatever it was that scene was establishing at that part. Most of her words flew over my head because they whizzed by so fast, so I mainly just looked into her green eyes or watched the curl of hair that kept falling in front of her face over her lips before she brushed it away.
In between movies I tried to remember the main plot points of Sleepless in Seattle in case Meggie wanted to talk about it more. I remembered Tom Hanks and whatsherface on top of the Empire State Building, and a backpack. I think they found each other over the radio or something. I still don’t really know.
Instead of talking about the movie, Meggie decided to ask me about my love life. Katherine immediately cracked up. “What? What did I say?” Meggie asked, smiling at the joke she wasn’t in on.
“I have no love life at the moment, that’s why she’s laughing.” I rolled my eyes back at Katherine, and she scrunched her nose at me.
“Oh. Well, is there anyone you’re interested in?” Meggie raised her eyebrows and bit her lip like she was waiting for me to come out with some gushy story about a crush of mine.
Before I could say anything, however, Katherine stuck her face between ours and whispered “She has a type!”
“A type?” Meggie laughed. “Yeah, me too. All my boyfriends have had hazel eyes. My current boyfriend’s eyes have a bit of blue in them but it’s basically the same thing.”
Katherine rested her head on her clasped hands. “Margaret’s into dark hair, light eyes. I think it’s the ‘opposites attract’ thing with the hair.”
“Everyone likes light eyes,” I said quickly.
“Not me.” Katherine leaned back in the seat and put her hands behind her head. “I’m into those really dark eyes, you know, the ones that look almost black?” She sighed. “Now those are some pretty sweet eyes.”
“Dark hair, light eyes, you said?” Meggie echoed. Her head tilted slightly in thought. “I think I know a couple of great guys that fit that description. I could hook you up!”
I smiled uneasily and shrugged. “I’m not really looking for someone at the moment…”
“But you obviously want someone!” Katherine stared at me with the look she gives me when she’s sharing a secret (which she does a lot). “Someone with black hair? And light, maybe, I don’t know, green eyes?”
Meggie laughed. “That could describe me!”
Katherine joined in, slapping me on the arm. “Yeah, it could, couldn’t it?” Sudden heat ran up my neck and into my cheeks. I giggled weakly.
“Guess I’d be perfect, wouldn’t I?” Meggie grinned at me.
“Yeah!” Katherine grabbed Meggie’s arm and she exploded into more, higher-pitched laughter.
I stuck a grin on my face. “Haha, yeah, guess so. Hey, I’m going to go get some air, okay? It’s a bit stuffy in here.” I fumbled for the car door handle for a few seconds before throwing it open and stumbling out. I shook my head at the two of them, pointing at Katherine. “Stop trying to hook me up with your friend,” I said with a smile. Meggie laughed even more.
Outside the car, I took a deep breath to clear my sudden dizziness. Looking around, I spotted the small playground with the spinning contraption and the swings behind the parked cars. I walked over to them and sunk down into one of the swings. The grass tickled my ankles, and I dug my toes into the dirt. The swing rocked slightly.
“Hey,” Katherine called, jogging up to me. She hadn’t even given me a moment to sit and think in silence. She sat in the other swing and leaned her head on the chain. “God, I love swings. Remember that time in like, first grade when we argued over what we would name our tiger if we ever got a tiger as a pet and I got so mad that I just left and swung on the swings for the rest of recess?”
“I’m not mad at you,” I snorted, rolling my eyes.
“Mmhmm…” Katherine grabbed the chain and stared at me over her arm with wide, expectant eyes.
I sighed. “Why are you trying to hook me up with Meggie?”
Katherine swung closer to me. “Because you two would be so cute together because you’re both so adorable!”
“Did you miss the part where she is in a relationship already?” I raised an eyebrow.
“Yeah, well…” Katherine looked down at the overgrown grass. “I don’t like her boyfriend.”
“Apparently she does,” I retorted.
The swing flipped as Katherine stood up. “But you do like her, don’t you?”
I shrugged. “Yeah of course I like her, so what? What do you want me to do? Tell her to leave her boyfriend so she can date someone she basically just met a few days ago?” Katherine stood with her mouth open for a second, then seemed to think better of what she was going to say and instead steadied the swing.
“Yeah, guess that was weird of me, huh?” She smiled. “Sorry about that. Next movie’s about to start, wanna come back to the car?”
“I’ll be there in a minute.”
I let the swing rock back and forth a little. The chains clinked, and I stared up at the rust-covered metal. These kind of swings always looked like they’d break in a second. I looked over at the spinning contraption. It was faring no better.
“She is really attractive, isn’t she?” I said to it. It squeaked in response.
I sighed. I wasn’t looking for a date. I’m not looking for a date. All my friends are in relationships, but I’ve been focusing on my studies. How do they find time to devote to their significant other? I’ll have time to date later in life, after college, or maybe senior year when I’ll have less credits. I’ll be fine.
And yet I can’t stop thinking about sitting on that swing and watching Meggie lean out of the car and wave to me as the next romance started.